M A R C H 20,  2013

jeanne Modigliani’s Women. Jeanne Hebuterne


The name of Jeanne Hébuterne is inseparable from that of Amedeo Modigliani, and the surprising and sad truth is that it was her death rather than life that tied them together forever. It is common knowledge that she committed suicide the day after Modigliani’s death and was buried in the same grave. She didn’t live to see her 22nd birthday.

In the history of art she is accorded the honorable role of the last but not the least influential muse of Modigliani. Popular literature and cinema repeatedly used her image to give their own view of the life story of the great artist, picturing her as a young girl devoted to her husband. This looks somewhat banal: why not her predecessor Simone Thiroux, who had given birth to Modigliani’s son whom he had refused to recognize? She was also young, fresh and in love with him, if only, perhaps, not so devoted.

When Modigliani met Jeanne and started to go out with her, all his friends and the entire bohemian milieu recognized her as wife rather than another girlfriend. Before meeting him Jeanette (as everybody called her) did not belong to the bohemians, although she was known as a young artist and Académie Colarossi student. It was there that they met – Modi also visited the académie to paint sitters for free. Sculptor Hannah Orlova, their common friend, helped them come to know each other.


both Modigliani’s Women. Jeanne Hebuterne


They met in the spring of 1917, when Jeanne was 19. She had a beautiful figure, looking like an amphora, and her swinging gait in heelless shoes resembled the movement of seaweeds. She had an extraordinary pale complexion, the face framed with a mane of gorgeous auburn hair, braided or forming rosettes at the temples that looked like sunflowers. Before giving birth to her daughter in 1919, Jeanne kept changing the way she looked by experimenting with hairdos. She was taciturn, even melancholy, and in some respects very much like her mother. Contemporaries recalled that her gaze was grave and introverted.



foto 3 Modigliani’s Women. Jeanne Hebuterne


She was indeed selflessly in love with Modigliani, but failed to make him drop alcohol and drugs. Nor could anything be done about his chronic TB, which eventually claimed his life. She was his guardian angel, muse and the subject of most of his canvases and drawings. Neither before meeting Modigliani nor after they started living together did Jeanne sit for anyone else.



Who was this young girl whom Modigliani regarded his woman and intended to marry officially?

Jeanne came from an ordinary petty-bourgeois family that lived in the Latin Quarter not far from the Pantheon. Her father, a senior accountant at the Le Bon Marché department store, had a passion for 17th-century French literature, in which he was well-versed. In the evenings he used to read philosophical treatises out loud, Pascal in particular, and his wife and two children had to listen to that home reading attentively. Jeanne’s brother André was four years older.

The children showed an aptitude for drawing early on, and the parents encouraged them in the belief that it could make them famous and well-off. Thus, André guided his sister and shared his creative endeavors with her. Their correspondence − André left for the frontline in 1914 and was back home only on rare leaves until the end of the war − has survived in the Hébuterne family archives. In 1910 André attended first the Bernard-Palissy and Germain-Pillon art schools and then l’Académie Ranson. Jeanne followed suit, studying drawing first at the École des Arts Décoratifs and then at the Académie Colarossi.

Jeanne did numerous pencil drawings, watercolors and gouaches, always signed but not dated her works, so they can be dated only empirically. This also refers to works done during her life with Modigliani. Jeanne never exhibited nor ever had any contract with a gallery or art dealer. No doubt, Modigliani appreciated her talent, but, being the most ruthless critic of his own work, knew from his own experience how much he had to work to become the Modigliani. This explains why he never exhibited Jeanne’s works next to his, even though he himself didn’t live to see his real success.



So, Jeanne began to draw two years before meeting Modigliani. Subsequently, her work was of course influenced by him, but in the beginning her style was closer to that of Maurice Denis and the Nabis group. For all of Modigliani’s influence, however, their works on common themes reveal certain essential differences. Jeanne was more attentive to the details of the interiors in which they did portraits of their relatives and friends. Working on a close-up or portrait against a colored background, Modi focused on the sitter’s inner world, while Jeanne drew no line between the sitter and the surroundings. Her landscapes, done from the studio window, as well as still lifes and backgrounds for portraits of friends give an idea of the surroundings and the meager furnishings of their abode.  Some of her works are executed in exquisite Art Deco style, while her landscapes and still lifes are done in free hand reminiscent of Bonnard and Vuillard.



There are noticeable differences in the way Jeanne and Amedeo treated the same models they painted concurrently. Thus, Modi showed Soutine as a pious commoner while Jeanne pictured him as a crass fop hiding his indifference to conventions.


1 Modigliani’s Women. Jeanne Hebuterne


2 Modigliani’s Women. Jeanne Hebuterne


3 Modigliani’s Women. Jeanne Hebuterne


Jeanne’s parents were simple people who adored their children and wished them nothing but the best. All the more distressing was for them the ambiguous situation of their daughter. According to their friends, Jeanne met Amedeo in the spring of 1917, although Modi’s first pencil portrait of Jeanne is dated December 1916. For several months the parents were unaware of the relations between their underage daughter (she was not 21 yet) and the famous artist of bad repute who was 14 years older. The Hébuternes were in Sarthe 200 km south-west of Paris in June 1917 when Jeanne suddenly decided to return to Paris on her own. The parents found her decision rather strange, but the young girl was so full of resolve that despite the wartime period she was allowed to go unattended. Jeanne was going to Modigliani, instead of home. They never parted, although for Jeanne it meant a big moral sacrifice: she had to deceive her parents and beloved brother by withholding the truth about her affair with Modigliani. In March 1918 Jeanne’s mother learned that her daughter was pregnant. The 23-year-old André actually broke off relations with his sister, of which he wrote indignantly in his frontline diaries. Meanwhile, the parents gradually reconciled themselves to the situation, seeing how deeply in love their daughter was.

Jeanne’s mother was among the few visitors to Modigliani’s small unheated studio of two rooms where the couple lived. There’s no doubt that she helped her daughter as best as she could. She accompanied Jeanne on a journey to Nice, together with Modi and a group of artists, in May 1918. One hardly has to explain the reasons for Mrs. Hébuterne’s strained relations with her intemperate son-in-law. Leopold Zborowski even had to lodge Modi separately from Jeanne and her mother to avoid conflicts and create conditions for Modi to work as their stay at the Côte d’Azur was paid for with Modi’s and Soutine’s pictures. The Paris collector Jоnas Nеtter, too, provided modest funding, while it turned out practically impossible to sell pictures to rich refugees directly in Nice. However, Modi, who can’t be denied having charm, managed to win Mrs. Hébuterne’s trust and favor during their Côte d’Azur sojourne.

On November 19, 1918, in Nice Jeanne gave birth to Jeanne Hébuterne, daughter of Jeanne Hébuterne and unknown father, as the two had not married officially. It so happened that the girl was not properly registered either in Nice or in Paris a few months later. As a result, after her parents’ death certificates of kinship had to be notarized so that the girl could be adopted and taken to Modigliani’s relations in Italy. On March 28, 1923, Jeanne’s parents had to testify about their daughter’s affair with Amedeo Modigliani in the presence of a notary. They were very delicate about their attitude to their daughter’s love and family life and refused to admit that she had left home against their will.

The pledge ­“Je m’engage aujourd’hui 7 jullet 1919 à épouser mademoiselle Jeanne Hébuterne aussitôt les papiers arrives” (Today, July 7, 1919, I assume the obligation to marry Mademoiselle Jeanne Hébuterne as soon as the papers arrive) – made in the presence of two witnesses, Leopold Zborowski and Lunia Czechowska, seems quite indicative, if strange. It is known that Modigliani had a wallet stolen in Nice and had to ask Zborowski and Paul Guillaume to help him with arranging for the reissue of his papers so that he could return to Paris. His brother, Giuseppe Emanuele Modigliani, helped him to get the papers, yet the wedding never took place, even though Jeanne and Amedeo lived together after the birth of their daughter.


Relations with André were never mended. Upon her return to Paris in May 1919 Jeanne made no attempt to bring her husband and brother together, which put an additional strain on her life with Modigliani. Beyond doubt, André loved his sister very much and in his own way was distressed for her. Yet, he could not forgive her for having found another instructor for her creative development. Furthermore, he could not forgive Modigliani his sitting the war out in the rear while André and his artist friends fought at the battlefront.

No one in particular can be blamed for what happened in January 1920. Jeanne had always been a highly volatile girl. According to Stanislas Fumet, a close friend of André and Jeanne, she pondered and spoke a lot about death and suicide even at the age of 17. Such thoughts increasingly assailed her throughout the period of her acquaintance and life with Modigliani: her lack of honesty with her parents and brother, the birth of an illegitimate daughter, her brother’s resentment, unending destitution, unheated housing, a second pregnancy and awareness that Modigliani was incurable with his blood spitting and pernicious addictions all inevitably led to her inner discord and depression. The last drawing Jeanne made in the 40 hours or so that passed from the moment of Amedeo’s death to that of her own shows her lying dead, with a stiletto in her hand, on the bed where she used to sit for Modi.

Jeanne’s friends left evidence of the last two days of her life – her brother never said or wrote a word about it.

Modigliani died at 8.50 p.m. on January 24, 1920. At that time Leopold and Hanka Zborowski took care of Jeanne. In order not to stay alone, she spent the night and the early hours of January 25 at a small hotel in Rue de la Seine together with Paulette Jourdain, a friend of the Zborowskis. In the morning, according to her, a maid found a stiletto under Jeanne’s pillow.

Accompanied by her father and friends, the Fumets, Jeanne went to the hospital, without uttering a word. They were met there by Kisling. She approached Amedeo’s body alone and, after taking a long look at him, without tearing her eyes off him or turning, backed out to the door that the friends had hurried to open for her.

From the hospital they went to the Zborowskis’ place, but her father insisted on her going back home in Rue Amiaux. Back home, she didn’t cry or talk. When night came and everybody retreated to their rooms, Jeanne’s brother André, who loved her dearly, came to her bedroom several times that night and always found her by the window.  He dozed off by dawn and was awoken by the knock of the open window next-door; he rushed there, but it was already late. Terrified that their mother would not bear the sight of Jeanne’s disfigured body that a worker who had accidentally found himself in their backyard at 4 o’clock in the morning had brought to their door, André asked him to take it to Modi’s studio in Rue Grand Chaumiere and told the mother that Jeanne had had a bad fall. The worker did as he was told, using a cart.

Modigliani was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery that day, and his friends did not know yet about another drama. The following day Jeanne was buried by her father, mother and brother at the remote Bagneux Cemetery in the Paris environs. At their will the burial took place at 8 o’clock in the morning without any announcement. A small truck with the coffin was followed by two taxis, one carrying the Hébuterne family and two of Jeanne’s friends – Chantal Quenneville, with whom Jeanne studied at the École des Arts Decoratifs and the Académie Colarossi, and Hannah Orlova; the other, keeping a distance, Amedeo’s friends  – Leopold Zborowski and wife, Kisling and Salmon. They were not allowed inside the cemetery walls.

Ten years later Jeanne’s remains were moved to rest next to Amedeo’s. In 1926 Amedeo’s brother Emanuele, an Italian Socialist and notable political activist, was forced to immigrate to flee persecution by the Fascist regime. After living for a few years in Vienna, Emanuele and his wife moved to Paris in 1930. He asked Jeanne’s parents to inter their daughter’s remains in Modigliani’s grave in order to pay respect to her devotion and love.

Jeanne Modigliani, who was adopted and raised by Amedeo’s aunt Margarita, devoted her life to studying and preparing for publication the biography of her father, Amedeo Modigliani. Her book Modigliani: Man and Myth was published in Italian in 1958, translated into English the same year and then published in French in 1961.

Jeanne Modigliani’s life wasn’t plain sailing either. She married Italian economist and journalist Mario Cesare Silvio Levi. During the Second World War she was active in the French Resistance, where she met and fell in love with Valdemar “Valdi” Nechtschein, who was also married.  In May 1946 they had a daughter, Anne, after which the two of them divorced their spouses and married. Their second daughter, Laure, was born in 1951. Jeanne and Valdemar divorced in 1980. On July 27, 1984, Jeanne Modigliani died of cerebral haemorrhage after an accidental fall.

Brother André was the last surviving relation of Jeanne Hébuterne, who left no memoirs, gave no interviews nor shared anything with those around. Until recently the family did not release any document or any other evidence. Jeanne Hébuterne’s legacy likewise remained off limits. For many years nine canvases by Jeanne Hébuterne remained in André’s studio at #12 Rue de la Seine in Paris. Jeanne’s family never recovered from their drama. After his sister’s death André left home and lived for a year in Rome, then came back and continued painting landscapes, exhibiting regularly at the Salon d’Automne, the Salon des Independants and the Salon des Tuileries (see André Hébuterne’s works). In 1930 he left for Algiers, then moved to Morocco. In 1934 he set out for Corsica, where he spent nine years. Until the 1960s his life was connected with Algiers. In his 98th year he died in Paris in 1992.

A few months before her death Jeanne Modigliani had transferred the right to dispose of her mother Jeanne Hébuterne’s archives and legacy to her long-standing secretary, French art critic Christian Parisot, who resided in Rome, on the condition of not making them public until 2000. Of course, she wanted the artist Jeanne Hébuterne to have her own future and niche in the history of art. Her will was executed, and in October 2000 several paintings and 60 drawings were put on public view at the Modigliani exhibition in Venice.

In 2003 the exhibition “Amedeo Modigliani, de Montmartre à Montparnasse” was held in Caserte and Bari, Italy, with six paintings by Jeanne Hébuterne, found in her brother’s studio, on display. On February 11, 2003, Zoé Blumenfeld published an article, “Jeanne Hébuterne, avec et sans Modigliani”, in the French paper Le Quotidien des Arts.

In 2001Christian Parisot founded the Modigliani Institute in Rome, which started to prepare a catalogue raisonné and the attribution of Modigliani’s works. The road to hell is known to be paved with good intentions. In 2008 Christian Parisot was charged with having forged Jeanne Hébuterne’s drawings and in 2010 with having issued authenticity certificates for 59 forged Modiglianis. In December 2012 he was detained and imprisoned. Laure Nechtschein Modigliani, the only heir to the great artist to date, has sued Parisot over the moral right to take care of Modigliani’s legacy. Parisot’s detention shell shocked the world of art in both hemispheres while he himself claims to have fallen victim to the competitors’ intrigues. With five alternative catalogues raisonné of Modigliani published in the world at different times, small wonder that passions continue to flare up now and then.

In 2008 the exhibition “Amedeo Modigliani and Jeanne Hébuterne” was held at the Aram & Harmony Art Museum of Goyang, South Korea, curated by Marc Restellini, founder and director of the Paris Pinacotheque. That same year he published an extensive monograph on the life and work of Jeanne Hébuterne, together with her catalogue raisonné. Beyond doubt, the work of Jeanne Hébuterne is of interest in itself rather than due to her relationship with Modigliani. She cuts a figure of a fairly original artist who, despite her youth and the indisputable influence of an outstanding master, such as Modigliani, sought her own road in art.



Marc Restellini. Le Silence Éternel. Modigliani – Hébuterne (1916-1920). Pinacothéque de Paris. 2008

Pierre Siechel. Modigliani, A Biography of Amedeo Modigliani, E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc., NY, 1967.

André Hébuterne

Jeanne Modigliani